For the second part of my series on Retirement Life, I’m taking a deep dive into the world of work.  Yes, I know, that’s the thing you’re supposed to leave behind when you retire, but I’m here to tell you that it absolutely shouldn’t be.  Retirement is the time to start thinking differently about work and this is why…

When doctors told me I had just six months to live, I gave up work almost overnight.  Thankfully the diagnosis was wrong as the eggplant-sized tumour I had on my pelvis turned out to be benign.  I’m sure you can imagine the myriad of emotions I went through during that tumultuous time, but even that didn’t prepare me for how I felt when I made my semi-retirement permanent.

I filled my time by writing books and dealing with a complex legal issue.  I had family, friends, an income, and newly restored good health, but still, I felt lonely, depressed, and completely lost.  I had no real purpose, didn’t know who I was anymore, and my identity seemed to evaporate, along with my zest for life.

After many years of soul searching, which included a month-long silent retreat in North Wales, I realised the thing I needed most in retirement was to be engaged mentally and socially.  Work gave me a reason for living, an identity, a social network and, of course, an additional income.  Work made me ‘me’, and that’s why I haven’t stopped working since.

It’s always been this way.

If what I’m saying comes as a shock to you, then I’m not surprised.  We boomers have been socially conditioned to view retirement as a dream-like state where we do what we want when we want.  No early morning alarm calls, meetings, or demanding bosses are to be found here.  The problem with this outdated notion of life after work, though, is this: it robs us of an identity and sense of purpose almost overnight.

I’m not going to linger on longevity and finances here, but whilst traditional retirements may have worked for our parents and grandparents, things have changed.  We are living longer and longer and yet, the cost of funding those years is going up and up.  The retirement equation of yesteryear doesn’t add up anymore, and that’s why we need some new calculations which involve continuing to work.   It’s not just about the money.  It’s about living a meaningful life for as long as we possibly can.  It’s about preserving our mental, physical, and emotional state by maintaining a sense of belonging and worth.

Do it differently.

When I talk about continuing to work long into ‘retirement’ people look at me in horror, thinking there’s no way on this earth they could continue doing the same job, at the same pace.   Often, in their minds, they have already ‘retired’ from their careers, and are counting down the days until they can finally kiss it all goodbye.  If this sounds like you, then worry not.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  In fact, more often than not, the retirees I work with choose not to stay in the same job, or even industry but to do something different.  Take Anne, a lifelong nurse from England.  She’s working on building a well-being and alternative therapy centre near the coast.   Or Judy, who has always worked in healthcare IT in the US.  She’s now studying for her personal trainer qualifications.    And then there’s John, a fund-raising consultant, who was dividing his life between two cities and a host of clients.  He’s now working with one large philanthropic venture in his hometown in Missouri.  Which brings me to another point…

You don’t have to be paid.

Times may be tough, but the work you choose to do in later life should, ideally, not be focused on income.  You’ve had that focus for forty years or more, and now it’s time for a different one; fulfilment.  When we think of work as purposeful, rather than financial sustenance, it takes on a whole new meaning, and we end up filling our days with something that brings us satisfaction and joy.   Take away the financial burden, and you open yourself up to a whole world of possibilities, from charity work to starting your own business.  Remember, it is possible to work alongside claiming your state pension or benefits.  Here’s some advice if you’re in the UK, the States, or Canada.

Going it alone.

For many people, the one thing they can’t wait to escape from when they reach retirement age is their boss.  Perhaps that’s why so many people choose entrepreneurship in later life.   It’s never too late to set up on your own, and if you need an incentive, one of the most in-depth studies of the relationship between age and entrepreneurship was conducted by MIT, Northwestern, Wharton, and the US Census Bureau.  It found that age doesn’t determine entrepreneurial success; your state of mind does.

Flexibility is your friend.

This is not about 9 to 5.  It’s not about constant stress.  Most of the people I work with want some level of flexibility, and that’s why many people choose to be their own boss.  The good news is that employers are waking up to the benefits of having a pool of experienced, knowledgeable, and flexible older workers on their books and are actively recruiting the over-fifties for their in-house talent pools.  And what’s more, the contracts and jobs on offer have a degree of flexibility too, so you can be your own boss without actually being your own boss!

Choosing a new line of ‘work.

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me how to choose a new line of ‘work’ in later life, I’d be an incredibly rich man.  I don’t have the answer, only you have that, but I do have lots of advice, and questions you should ask yourself.  The answers should help guide you on your way to finding a new path, but remember, you may not get it right first time.  I generally advise retirees to take a gap year and travel, because it opens them up to new horizons, mindsets, and opportunities.  Finding the right kind of work may take a little, well, work.

Ask yourself …

  • What activity brings you joy? Cooking, painting, beekeeping, DIY, teaching, coaching, learning, emotional support? Whatever it is, it’s a good place to start when you think about your next line of ‘work’.
  • What are you good at? What have you always wanted to do?  The answer to these questions may help you come up with some great ideas too.
  • How much time do you have? Remember, this is not about working yourself into the ground.  It’s about adding something meaningful and purposeful to your days.  If you only want to work one or two days a week, solo entrepreneurship may not be for you.
  • Do you like having a boss? Working as a team?  Being in charge of your own destiny?
  • Do you have other responsibilities you need to prioritize, such as caring for grandchildren or your spouse?
  • How energized do you feel?
  • Do you thrive on giving something back and making a difference? If so, you should consider how you can do this.
  • And finally, how important is this source of income to you and your well-being?

If you’d like to know more, then why not get a copy of my Dare to Discover Your Purpose book? It helps you understand what you’re up against as you face retirement and guides you through making a blueprint for your future. You can also access my online course, which has helped hundreds of retirees to change their mind about giving up work.

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